Should you collaborate with a co-writer or write your song by yourself? Collaboration can be good or not so good, depending on you, your partner and how you handle the arrangement. The biggest thing to realize about collaboration is that when you write a song with a partner, you will be connected to that person for the rest of your life. It is like if you have a child with someone, whether you like them (or still like them) or not. Any decisions to be made about the song will require the input of both of you. So, if either of you move, change your phone number or email, the other partner must be informed of the change. Forever (explanation will follow). Because of this reality, it is clear to see why it is simply easier and less complicated to write your song by yourself. But let’s examine some points to consider about collaboration.
Why collaborate? Maybe you’re good with lyrics and your partner is better with music, or vice versa. Maybe you have connections in television and your partner is well-connected in film and access to the connections will be broader by pooling all of the contacts. Maybe you both are looking to share the expenses that will be incurred (read on) with writing a song. There are many scenarios that could be mutually beneficial by collaborating, but it is always good idea to first identify the reason(s) before you dive in. It will help to focus on the goal or the desired outcome of the partnership.
Put an agreement together in writing. A written contract. There are many writer collaboration agreement templates that can be found on-line. Many are free. It is always a good idea to spell out everything and talk about everything before signing. And spell out who will be doing what.
We have already mentioned lyrics and music. Again, maybe one of you is better with words and the other is better at composing. But there many other components of the business of songwriting. Let’s start with the copyright registration.
To register a copyright for a song the Library of Congress charges a registration fee. So, it makes sense that if you have a partner you split the cost of this expense. Fine, but who is going to go on their website, open an account and register it? You? Your partner? What address, email and phone number will be used for the application? Again, you or your partner? If you do it and pay for it, will your partner reimburse you for their share of the registration fee without your having to constantly remind them?
How about releasing the song? Will you release the song or write it for another artist to release? Either way it will have to be published and a decision will have to be made regarding whether it will be with your publishing company, your partner’s company, a joint company, the artist’s or a co-publishing agreement between the companies? Then comes the question regarding the monitoring of the royalties and the reporting of performances. Again, will you be the one to handle this or your partner?
Then there is recording. Where will it be recorded and who will produce it? Who will sing? You? Your partner? Your significant other? Their significant other? Maybe you formed a band together and you are writing the song to be performed by the band. What happens to the song when the band breaks up?
For a digital release, let’s say you and your partner will drop it on your own. Will it be under your name, your partner’s name, or a band name that you both agree on? Which digital distributor will you use? There are many choices for digital music distribution and their services and fees vary. Most will take a small percentage of your sales but require a flat fee or an annual payment for the service. If it is a flat fee you, of course you can split it with your partner. If it is an annual fee you can also split it, but just remember that for the life of the song you will have to coordinate to get the fee paid annually year. And which one of you will actually go on the website of the distributor to register it? You could share an account, but either way, this is another expense to consider. (Don’t forget to make sure you both always have the current password, etc.)
How about artwork? Your song will require artwork (a cover) that will be uploaded to the digital release platform. It will represent your track on streaming sites like Spotify and stores like iTunes, etc. Will you do the artwork, your partner, or will you hire (another expense) a graphic artist? What about the content on the digital release platform? Someone will have to write the description of the song and/or include the story of how it came to be, etc., and also include the lyrics. How about a video?
Then there is embedding. When a radio station asks you to send them an MP3 of the song for airplay, the file will need to be embedded with the ISRC number, UPC number, artwork, lyrics, and all metadata. This is something that will have to be done by either you, your partner or maybe someone that you hire to do the job. And, of course, if you hire someone, one of you will pay and then get reimbursed by the other. Even if either one of you do it, embedding software will have to be purchased, incurring yet another expense. How about inclusion on Spotify playlists? You? Your partner? (you get the idea).
Then there are the reports. Streaming reports, sales reports and royalty reports will forever be generated regularly for the song by the distribution platform and performing rights organization(s). What if your partner owns all the accounts? Can they be relied upon to provide you with every one of the reports as they are generated, year after year? Or vice versa. Could you?
Lastly, let’s say years later, after writing the song, a music supervisor is interested in using it for a television show. That would be fantastic and could mean the realization of considerable royalties. Hopefully, you could easily contact your partner to get their authorization. (Both parties must authorize any and all licensing agreements, etc.) If not, then taking advantage of the opportunity to generate revenue with the song would be impossible. You would be stuck.
Despite the scenarios mentioned, collaboration can be great if you have the right partner and the right agreement. Just be sure you know what you are getting into, before you get into it.